Thursday, July 31, 2008

can't ride a bike wha???

those of you who know me know that i teach _a bike class for kids. those of you who don't know me now know the same. most of what we cover in this class is mechanics. the kids actually earn a bike that they keep through the program. we also try to get in some riding skills if there's time at the end of the class.
today was the last class in the july session, so the kids finished up their bikes, safety checked them, and we went for a short ride. two of the students (sisters, as it turns out) weren't comfortable enough on two wheels without training wheels to be able to join the group ride, so i stayed with them and worked on some balance exercises. i even discovered a new and easy practice method for getting used to the pedals*.
i wish i had known earlier that they couldn't ride. i would have spent more of their class time working on balance and riding skills and less on things like how to replace and adjust a derailleur cable. these two kids were some of our best mechanics that we've seen. they had a sense of wanting to figure out challenges and bike parts that i haven't seen in too many of our students.
we had to replace some reflectors, and i asked why we put the red on the back of the bike, and the white one on the front. the younger sister figured out in about 3 seconds what the reason is. blew my socks off. i think there are adults in the bike shop who don't know why we do that. in fact, i know there are, as i've seen countless bikes with the wrong reflector on the wrong end of the bike. this girl is 9.
the girls' mother did bring up the fact that one of them still uses one training wheel at home, so perhaps i was being overly optimistic about their riding abilities. i guess the family's moved a fair bit in the last year or two, so the kids haven't had a regular place to ride, nor bikes to get used to. it's hard for me to understand a kid's world that doesn't include riding a bike. we moved around a lot when i was a kid, and one of the first things we did in our new destination was to go for bike rides and figure out the neighborhood.

i realized the other day that i can't remember a time in my life when i couldn't ride a bike. i have vague memories of my dad running behind me saying "you got it! you got it! keep going!" but i can't be sure i'm not just stealing that memory from some movie or tv show. i'm kind of glad that i can't remember not riding a bike. i don't know how i would handle a memory like that.

at the end of the class, after bikes were put into parents's cars, tools were put away, the floor swept, i turned around at one point, and there were these two girls. waiting to tell me thanks.
totally made my night. even if they didn't get up on two wheels earlier...

*2 exercises for learning to ride a bike:

1. "the seat scoot"
lower the seat so that the rider can sit comfortable on the bike with both feet flat on the ground. have the rider sit on the bike, as if they're going to ride it. the rider pushes with their feet along the ground, moving forward as if they're riding a bike with no pedals, like this:

start with small steps. the rider will get more comfortable with lifting her feet up, steering, braking, etc, and her steps will get longer. eventually, she'll be able to zip around, coasting with her feet up off the ground, only putting their feet down to avoid crashing.

2. "the pedal pusher"
this method works well for kids who have ridden a skateboard or scooter before. it's a little more advanced that the seat scoot, but kids learn in different ways, and if they're motivated to learn, then mixing up the lessons will help break the monotony, and encourage success.

have the rider stand over the bike as if he's about to go for a ride. hands on handlebars, feet on ground beside the bike. lift one foot up onto a pedal while keeping the other foot on the ground. the rider's weight will eventually be on the pedal, but the other foot is busy pushing off the ground. similar to a razor type scooter, or a skateboard. essentially, with one foot on the pedal, and the other pushing off the ground, the rider has turned their pedal bicycle into one of these:

for this method, the rider will be propelling himself forward, but his weight will be on the pedal, so he'll be standing up as he's pushing along. again, helps with the balance, steering, etc.

eventually, the foot that's on the pedal will swing back and forth slightly. as it moves forward, it's freewheeling. as it moves back, it will be engaging the chain, and is, for all intents and purposes, pedalling. it's an eay victory for the rider to be pedalling so easily, and the smile i got when i pointed out that she was actually pedalling made my night.

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